Albert Bierstadt’s Giant Redwood Trees of California, painted in 1874, was created at the same time as the First Impressionist exhibition in Paris but could not offer a more contrasting view. The artist’s reproductions of sweeping vistas and rolling landscapes made him the dominant figure of the Hudson River School, an informal grouping of painters. Influenced by the aesthetic concerns of Romanticism, the Hudson River School became known for a distinct and highly recognizable style characterized by bright, transcendental lighting, a birds-eye view of the rolling lands, minute brushwork, and tranquil vistas that was briefly known under the moniker Luminism. Appearing briefly before Impressionism and baring distinct surface similarities to the movement, Luminism bore no relation to the experimental French study of the movement and imprint of light. Conversely, Bierstadt and his circle were interested in rendering visions of their lands in an idealistic rather than realistic manner.
Giant Redwood Trees of California is an imagined reproduction of a frontier landscape from an artist that firmly established the idea of the United States as a land of promise amongst the peoples of Western Europe. The artist was a German immigrant to the United States who became a notable entrepreneur and self-promoter. His immensely-sized canvases were inspired by a number of formative journeys taken alongside pioneers of the American Western Expansion. Giant Redwood Trees of California is a stunning and populist remnant of an early incarnation of American nationalism, which stresses the majesty, the hope, and ceaseless energy of a country that attracted so many immigrants eager to build a new life. Bierstadt himself was one of those economic migrants to the United States, and his vision of the world he found there is imbued with hope.
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